Personal and Home Security Risks of Geotagging

Posted by Omega Security on December 24, 2013

Social media has taken off in recent years. Nowadays, it is common for most Internet users to post multiple daily updates. People post everything from routine activities such as stopping for lunch at a favorite eatery to detailed information and photos of family vacations. Giving out such details has always been a security risk, but the geotagging feature that adds location data has increased the risks.
home security
What is Geotagging?

A geotag is a data string added to images and used by many apps to “tag” the exact location of where an image, post or event took place. Photographs taken by digital cameras, from point-and-shoot varieties to DSLRs to smartphones, can all contain the exact latitude and longitude recorded at the moment the image is taken. Apps used to post to social media sites append the data string to mark where a person was when the post was sent.

From tablets and laptops to smartphones, most electronic devices used today have a GPS receiver chip that uses signals from a network of satellites to accurately determine the position of the devices, in many cases within inches. Consumer GPS technology is so accurate that individuals can use mapping apps to watch their movements from one end of a room to another in real time. This accuracy is part of the security risks of geotagging.

The Security Risks of Geotagging

The root of the issue is that photos, posts and other data sent to social media sites do not have a guarantee of protection. Images especially may be used for any purpose the social media sites wish. Since the images along with the embedded geotagging data may be discoverable by anyone, this can become an extreme personal and home security risk. Pictures of a child may be seen by a predator who can easily determine the exact spot where the pictures were taken. The predator then knows what the child looks like and where the child can be located.

Social media users who post their whereabouts along with detailed status updates are providing information any criminal can use. A social media post that declares someone is out shopping for a diamond ring along with the GPS coordinates appended to the post announces both that something of value is available to be stolen and where the person is at so the theft can occur. An innocent post declaring the whole family is having dinner at a local steakhouse along with the coordinates lets a thief know the house is unoccupied. Scrolling back to find a geotagged post of where the home is located will not be difficult.

Vacation photos and posts are a favorite of criminals. They show what each member of the family looks like as well as how far away from home they are. A family vacationing in Florida may be practicing good personal security on Miami beaches by not leaving valuables on beach towels and not venturing off alone. However, they may be posting photos sharing detailed information about where they are, what they are doing, where they are staying and how long they will be away from home.

Protecting Against the Risks of Geotagging

The best solution is to shut the feature off for every device that has a camera and to shut it off in every app that uses geotagging in social media posts. However, this is not the end of the issue. Geotags give precise location information, but images and the actual text portion of posts often share too much information. A good rule of thumb is to consider each post and photo being sent to social media sites as if it were going to be read or seen by absolutely anyone in the general public. If that thought generates uncomfortable feelings, do not post it.

Another article discussing the potential home security risks of using geotagging advises how to disable the feature on some devices. However, it is best to pull out the user’s manuals for cameras, laptops, tablets and smartphones to learn how to disable geotagging properly. Globally disabling location-based features is usually not necessary. In the case of security risks of getoagging and social media sites, simply shutting off the camera and social media app’s geotagging features is sufficient.

Overall, common sense is the name of the game when it comes to sharing general information, including details about location. Whether practicing good personal security on a Miami beach or just keeping the location of that family photo taken in the backyard private, all it takes is a little knowledge of the geotagging function of each device and a little consideration before hitting the “send” or “post” button.